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County rejects claim it’s defunding sheriff

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HUDSON—“The statement made last week by the Columbia County Democratic Chairman in which he claimed that county Republicans were attempting to defund the county Sheriff’s Department to the tune of $250,000 is not true,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell (R-Stockport) in a press release November 22.

“Instead, it is a proposed transfer of specific Emergency Management funds designed to establish it as its own department, and not a reduction of funds. This transfer does not affect people’s safety whatsoever and does not affect the Sheriff’s Office one bit,” added Chairman Murell, in the release from the county.

The operating budget designated specifically for Emergency Management is between $139,000-$140,000. In the proposed transfer, $65,000 will stay with the sheriff’s budget, as these funds cover software maintenance agreements utilized by various programs in the jail, civil and law enforcement areas. The remaining $70,000 would transfer with the county Emergency Management Office. Any grant budget lines are applied for and used strictly for what they are awarded for.

According to a press release from the Columbia County Democratic Committee (CCDC), on November 19 at a Public Safety Committee meeting, Chairman Murell introduced a resolution that “would slash over $250,000 from the [Sheriff’s Office] budget and sever the Sheriff’s Emergency Management Division from the sheriff’s control and place it under the control of Chairman Murell.”

Sheriff-elect Don Krapf, who defeated current sheriff David Bartlett in the November election, is currently opposed to the resolution, according to the release. Mr. Krapf ran on the Democratic ballot line.

“This is a case of sour grapes,” said Sam Hodge, chair of the Columbia County Democratic Committee in a press release from the Democrats. “Their candidate lost decisively and now, out of nowhere, they want to cut a quarter of a million dollars from the budget and take away important responsibilities from the sheriff’s control. The Republicans are playing politics with people’s safety and it’s not right.”

The Democrats also say there was little notice provided to the public or other supervisors of the proposed change. It was included at the end of an agenda that was distributed only briefly before the committee met.

“Creating a new department is a big decision,” said Tistrya Houghtling(D), minority leader and New Lebanon town supervisor. “This sort of drastic change warrants more discussion and research.”

The Public Safety Committee considered the resolution for approximately 15 minutes before passing it through committee on a vote of 5-3.

“There is no defunding of anything as the funds will continue to be used as already designated,” said Chairman Murell in the county release. “The budget lines that will transfer with the Emergency Management Office are already designated specifically to Emergency Management in the sheriff’s budget, and will not change.”

The release from the county says that establishing the Emergency Management Office as its own department establishes an efficiency that does not now exist in times of crisis. As its own department, the director of the Emergency Management Office would report solely to the county Board of Supervisors chairman during large countywide events such as the pandemic, rather than two separate offices.

The release from the Democrats points out that the Emergency Management Office is currently led by former Sheriff David Harrison, Jr., a donor to and supporter of Sheriff Bartlett. “If the resolution is successful, Harrison would report to Murell, rather than Sheriff-elect Krapf,” according to the Democrats’ release.

Under the proposed new structure, Emergency Management would now answer to the full Board of Supervisors, as do the county 911, Fire and EMS agencies, according to the county release.

“This move is something that has been discussed in the past with the outgoing sheriff and would have happened whether or not Sheriff Bartlett had won in November’s election,” said Chairman Murell, in addressing comments suggesting the proposed move was generated by political retribution.

For its part, the Emergency Management Office is a busy, part-time department of five that prepares for the worst and hopes for the best while remaining available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Much of its work is done in the background.

“Moving forward,” said Chairman Murell, “I would like to recommend that the Board of Supervisors schedule a special meeting in December to discuss the proposed transfer and to answer any and all questions. This would include the Sheriff-elect.”

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